Laird Carpenter has never been to Boyertown, but a little piece of his soul could be seen there at the Martin Moto motorcycle shop this past weekend.
The fourth annual Modern Classics Motorcycle Show was held Saturday, with an emphasis on the two-stroke machines of the 1970s. (Two-strokes have all but disappeared in America, replaced by cleaner-burning four-strokes.)
Among the displays was a 1974 Kawasaki 500, which Dennis Martin, the owner of Martin Moto, said was called "the widow maker" in its heyday.
I'm keenly aware of that, because I once rode one owned by Laird, my cousin in Eden, N.Y., and when I calmly accelerated up to, let's say 60 mph, a blast of power had me performing an unintended wheelie.
Two-strokes worked great if you were used to them, but they often had exhaust systems that suddenly increased power ("getting on the pipe") at certain engine speeds, and it could be quite a surprise.
"It happened to me a couple of times," Laird said when I called him this week. He called the Kawasaki "my little death trap" but reminisced fondly about the time his pal was sure his 911 Porsche was faster. Laird said the Porsche was soon in "a fast-receding cloud of two-stroke blue exhaust."
When I went to Saturday's show, I felt sorry for the poor souls who do not go gaga over motorcycles. If you are one of them, you might want to turn the page, because this column will make you so jealous you won't be able to live with yourself.
It was a day of glory for those whose lives have been enriched by two-wheeled motorized masterpieces. I missed the previous shows, but last week The Morning Call had an advertisement that caught my eye, saying "100 of the finest motorcycles from the '60s, '70s and '80s" would be on display.
My heart went pitter-patter. Might I get another look at my 1974 Yamaha RD 350? That $900 (new) two-stroke twin could outrun just about anything on the road, including bikes with engines twice as big and price tags three times as big, because of its fantastic handling. (My wife once asked how in the world I tattered the knees of my blue jeans, and it was hard to explain how they skimmed the pavement on curves.)
Then, at Saturday's show in Boyertown, there it was, maroon paint job and all. I could have just stood there and caressed that RD 350 with almost orgasmic nostalgia all day, but other masterpieces beckoned.
Nearby was the legendary Yamaha TZ 750, which won every big Daytona race for seven years in a row. It was made by welding two RD 350 engines together to make the fastest road-racing bike of that era.
The show featured a few Harley-Davidsons, from a tiny 1966 one-cylinder two-stroke to the iconic big four-stroke V-twins, including a 1959 Sportster and a 1962 Duo-Glide. I like Harleys and I used to rent them in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but I now have two big Yamaha road bikes.
There was a 500-cc Triumph Trophy twin, similar to the one Steve McQueen or his stunt double rode in "The Great Escape." (Look closely the next time you see a rerun of that film; you may spot McQueen playing the part of a German soldier chasing himself on another Triumph.)
Jim Varnes of Glenmoore, Pa., had his 1978 Yamaha flat-track racer on display. It had the same engine as the 250-cc Yamaha motocrosser I raced when I was in my 30s. Varnes said he raced his flat-tracker as recently as last year. (Now who's jealous?)
And so it went, with representations of other brands I once owned (Honda, Montessa) or wished I had owned (Norton, Maico, etc.) — machines that send spirits soaring (for us normal people, that is).
As I was about to leave, I spotted something I had missed. In a remote corner was a 1957 three-speed (clutch and shifter on the same hand control) Lambretta motor-scooter. Oh, the rapture!
That was the very first motorized two-wheeler I ever owned, when I was stationed on Okinawa, and I somehow persuaded a beautiful Japanese girl to go for a ride with me. (I think she agreed only because I spoke Japanese, a rarity among American GIs, and we celebrated our 55th anniversary in December.)
It was hard to tear myself away from that Lambretta, but I finally did. As soon as I was outside, somebody called my name.
It was Art McHugh, one of the most colorful bicycle racers ever, and more recently (until last year) the announcer at the Friday night professional bicycle races at the velodrome in Trexlertown. He and I also have gone motorcycle riding together, with McHugh on his beloved Ducati, so I told him about the Ducati displays inside.
It turned out, however, that he also was a two-stroke fanatic. "I liked the two-stroke thing. That was pretty neat," he said later, revealing that he also used to race motocross, and even once owned a Yamaha RD 350. (Golly, we're almost twins.)
Sadly, I must point out a disturbing characteristic of the show's big crowd. Men outnumbered women by a margin of at least 20-to-one, and I had the impression that all the women were just accompanying guys.
How is America ever going to have a female president, or otherwise fully accommodate one-half of the nation's population, as long as there is such a shocking gender gap when it comes to the appreciation of our culture's most splendid artifacts?
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and FridaysCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun